1968 – Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball – Robin Parkinson and Eric Martin (American)

Pic and article from The Machine: As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age by Pontus Hulten (Beautiful pressed-metal Hardcover – 1968)
Robin Parkinson. American, born 1943 (artist)
Eric Martin. American, born 1943 (engineer)
Toy-Pet Plexiball-Ball. 1968

Plexiglass, electrical equipment, motor, microphone, synthetic fur bag; sphere, 11" diameter.

The Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball has three "eyes" and one "ear" that respond to light and sound. Its creators explain:
If a person, in the same room with the sphere, makes a loud noise, such as clapping his hands, the sphere begins to roll. If, after five seconds, he makes no other loud noise, the sphere will stop. If he continues making noise for the five seconds, the sphere continues to roll for a longer period in the same direction. If the sphere has stopped and the person makes a noise a second time, the sphere rolls in another direction. If he directs the sphere toward any other object, it eventually sees a reflection of its blinking and goes in either of two other directions. If he approaches the sphere and gets in front of the light source, the sphere sees him and begins to move in one of three directions. A controlled series of sounds can guide the sphere in the direction of another person or pursue him around the room.
The only override to the sphere's internal decision-making process consists of throwing a blanket over the sphere, or putting it in its special bag. The sphere then remains in a dormant state until released.

Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball
Robin Parkinson (artist) and Eric Martin (engineer)  1968
"The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age", a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern art, New York, (1968) helped make "technology" respectable in art once again. In the style of the great international expositions of the past, the exhibition attempted to project current trends into the future. While celebrating machines and machine lore in visual culture, the exhibit also pointed beyond the mechanical era to an age of electronics. One of the premises of the show was that "We are surrounded by the outward manifestations of the culmination of the mechanical age. Yet, at the same time, the mechanical machine – which can most easily be defined as an imitation of our muscles – is losing its dominating position among the tools of mankind; while electronic and chemical devices –which imitate the processes of the brain and the nervous system – are becoming increasingly important". (The Machine, page 3).
A special section "Experiments in Art and Technology" was devoted to artworks that were created jointly by artists and engineers. Some of the liveliest images in the exhibition invited "interaction" with the viewers, thus combining whimsical uses of technology with basic principals of behaviorist psychology. Robin Parkinson (artist) and Eric Martin (engineer) designed a playful "Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball", a plastic sphere with sensors that responded to light and sound. The sphere would start to roll when it "heard"hands clapping, and when change direction if the person clapped a second time, and so forth. When a synthetic fur bag was slipped over the sphere it became dormant, and could be petted like an ordinary cat or dog. Another interactive piece, "Proxima Centauri" by Lillian Schwartz (artist) and Per Biorn (engineer) featured a translucent dome on top of a rectangular base. The dome "lured" the spectator to a closer position by displaying changing visual patterns, but coyly dropped down into the base as a viewer approached, inviting even closer inspection.

Title: Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball
Authors: Robin Parkinson and Eric Martin
Description: Viewer-responsive rolling furry sphere with diameter of eleven inches.
Commentary: This mobile robotic piece had three eyes and one ear. Exhibiting peculiar behavior, this furry round creature rolled towards a noise-making viewer, only to stop when the sound paused. More noise was responded with rolls toward the source. At this point the toy-pet rolled in the opposite direction if the viewer continued making more sounds. If it rolled towards another object, it eventually moved in one of two possible directions. The sphere rolled in one of three possible directions if the viewer blocked the light. The only way to make it dormant was to cover its body entirely – it had its own furry bag.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 3:41 pm and is filed under Cybernetic Animals, Robots in Art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “1968 – Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball – Robin Parkinson and Eric Martin (American)”

  1. [BLOCKED BY STBV] Horizon, Autumn 1969 | Horizon (1959-1978) Says:

    […] ‘The Machine: As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age’ included examples of Fun Art like the Toy-Pet Plexi-Ball, an electronic pet that reacts to light or sound sources. In this time exposure it comes to the […]